A former department head at Valley Stream North High School frequently made unsolicited passes at a pair of male colleagues and boasted about her past sexual triumphs, which created a “toxic” work environment for teachers and students, according to sexual harassment complaint filed Monday against the school district.
The allegations against veteran social studies teacher Cecilia Sanossian, who became chair of the Social Studies Department in the 2009-2010 school year before recently stepping down, was the result of years of disregarded complaints and deafening silence from the Valley Stream Central School District, according to two social studies teachers bringing the complaint.
“To see nothing be done about it…it really hurt, it really upset me,” Alphonso Daddino of Garden City said at Carle Place office of the law firm Leeds Brown Law PC.
“We were getting ignored through every channel,” said John Brennan of Brooklyn, who claimed he was first sexually harassed during the 2009-2010 school year.
Both men said they were victims of unwanted advances through the years and had to endure suggestive comments that disrupted the work environment and caused physical and emotional stress.
Brennan, who is married, alleged that Sanossian would massage his shoulders and neck and caress his scalp even after he’d decline her offers, which made him feel powerless, he said.
“I got to the point where I wouldn’t even go to our office anymore,” he said.
In the complaint filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights, Daddino said he was touched inappropriately on his back, arms and shoulders. Sanossian also made lewd comments, such as “I give the best head,” explaining her preference for older men, and an admission that she and her sisters are known for their “great assess but not their breasts,” the complaint states.
Brennan claimed that the sexual harassment would continue even after he had made official complaints to the administration. “Sanossian made comments to John such as: ‘I could just kiss you,’” and in one instance, invited him over to shower at her house, according to the complaint.
Ten concerned members of the social studies department collectively wrote a letter to the high school principal last May detailing troubling comments and threats made against members of the department. Sanossian would openly brag about her sex life, including the time she broke her rib during a specific romp, the complaint states. She also referred to male members of the department as “FILF”—“fathers I would like to f**k,” according to the letter included in the complaint. Her fondness for one male colleague prompted Sanossian to compare him to a “hot fudge chocolate Sunday that students want to eat,” the letter states.
Both men said on several occasions they explained their grievances to the school administration, including to the principal and assistant principal. Brennan’s first verbal complaint was made in 2010. Both men filed sexual harassment complaints, but corrective measures were never taken, according to the complaint.
“She created a very toxic environment,” said Daddino. “I had to do something. I couldn’t let this continue.”
“That’s why we’re at this point,” added Brennan. “We have to do what’s right.”
Their attorney, Lenard Leeds, called the men “heroes” and said they’re trying to do what’s best for their colleagues and students. Leeds also suggested hypothetically that a similar complaint made by a female would perhaps attract a more aggressive response from the school district. Brennan, however, said they have not been shamed for speaking out and insisted that their colleagues have been supportive.
Leeds called for disciplinary actions against Sanossian, who recently stepped down as chair and now works as a teacher. Leeds said he would leave it to a jury to determine how much the men should be awarded.
“The district is aware of the allegations and is conducting an internal investigation,” Bill Heidenreich, Superintendent of Valley Stream Central High School District, said in a statement through a spokeswoman. “Due to matters of personnel, the district is not offering any further comment at this time.”
It was unclear if Sanossian had hired an attorney.